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Lessons From the Lions, Bobcats and Sea Turtles in Our Backyards

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I've spent most of my professional career studying and working to restore sea turtle populations. Usually, my work takes me far from home: Baja California, El Salvador, Indonesia, Brazil. And I'm often doing research in someone else's backyard, as an invited guest. This always requires our team to work closely with fishermen and coastal residents, especially when their activities are in conflict with and threaten sea turtles.

In Mexico, for example, sea turtles are commonly hunted for turtle soup and they regularly get caught in fishing nets. In El Salvador and Indonesia turtle eggs are a delicacy and a wide range of gear types entangle and hook sea turtles. Everywhere I go our plastic pollution harms sea turtles.

Needless to say, to be successful in this field requires a high level of sensitivity, communication and collaboration. Especially as a guest in someone else's backyard.

But now the tables are turned. The backyard is mine and I'm playing the role of the welcoming coastal resident. Instead of sea turtles and fishing issues the focus here is on mountain lions and migration corridors. And GPS tracking efforts suggest they find the hills around our home very appealing. We live in a puma hotspot, you might say.

Two nights ago a pair of lions took down a deer in the canyon where we live, just a few steps from our back door. I knew the local Research Team would be interested, so we reported the interaction, emailed photos and some details. Researcher Yasaman Shakeri showed up with a trap, transmitters and infrared trail camera. We grabbed our headlamps, gloves, iPhone4 and boots.

The kids and I joined her as she set the trap in the redwoods, carefully placed the doe that the lions had killed in the back of the trap and set the transmitter to signal when an animal had entered. We set up a camera trap, pointed at the cage, to catch all the action. Then we returned to the house to wait.

Puma Project Video (Part 1)

In the field, studying sea turtles, I have been the recipient of a massive amount of hospitality and generosity. We have always invited families to join us when putting transmitters on sea turtles. It was a pleasure to return the hospitality to a fellow researcher and a gift to have the opportunity for our kids to see her work up close. But this time, as on so many evenings in Baja in fishermen's homes, it was my turn to provide the coffee and muffins.

Hourly checks through the night, using the antenna from the guest bedroom, allowed monitoring of the trap from a distance. This time no animals were caught. However, the camera was full of some stunning images. A beautiful lion inspecting the setup and a bobcat slipping in for a snack. A reminder of the beauty, grace and wildness around us.

Puma Project Video (Part 2)

Like many of the fishermen I work with, we strive to live side by side with nature. The opportunity to safely engage with and to learn some of the secrets of wild animals is truly wonderful. To share these moments in the wild with children is among the most important things we can do.